Growing up on a midlands farm in the 60’s I had a foot in two cultural worlds. Born into the fog of oppression that had enveloped the country since the State’s foundation there was a stir and a sense that the grip of the old was loosening. My mother, and her friends who took note, would marvel at the smallest of changes but it would take another twenty or so years before we could really say we’d left the old country behind.
Censorship, public shaming, surveillance and silencing best describe my memory of the public world of the 60’s and early 70’s. The jump in the film reel where the cut was made, the gaping hole in the magazine where dangerous information had lurked, the banned books - Edna O Brien, Family Limitation and Wise Parenthood to name but a few. The all-encompassing belittlement of women that aimed to silence and shame.
The fightback against those oppressive attitudes which had smothered us for decades gathered speed as the 70’s progressed and carried us well into the new century. Minds were changed through open debate, argument and persuasion.
This revolutionary period appears to be ending and the short lived strides towards equality reversing. A new ideology has swept in to swamp and silence us. Embedding an ideology requires stamping out opposition and controlling dissenting voices: thus it is that the low hanging fruit of women’s voices are the first to be picked and stamped out, driven by the need to assert dominance and a fear and hatred of women who dare to oppose it. The attempt to censor calls down litigation, job loss, cancellation and even physical harm on those who dare to speak.
So where are we now? In place of the priests and their handmaidens of Catholicism and again with the full backing and acquiescence of a patriarchal state, we have a new form of misogyny and oppression in the guise of trans ideology. Like the church their supporters have inserted themselves into many areas of power and influence. The Archbishop of Dublin sat on the board of the National Maternity Hospital. The chairperson of TENI, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland now sits on the board of the National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI).
From the altars of the church women were shamed, silenced and ostracised. Now there is a legion of activists behind keyboards doing the same job believing they are untouchable.
An open letter from Feminist Ire in 2018 was a red flag. It opposed a meeting in Ireland in which British feminist speakers, who questioned trans ideology, were invited to speak. They were
"..not welcome here in Ireland. We will not sit in silence while the organisers of this meeting peddle ideas and opinions that are actively harmful to the well-being and safety of our comrades."
‘We do not need you here’
A similar thread runs through TENI’s recent public letter: "These are the worries that these organisations are seeking to bring to Ireland."
Their fear is palpable, their insult familiar, their xenophobia comical - were it not for the voices of these English hussies we’d be able to control our own obstreperous lassies. This is reminiscent of the fear of all things English that could contaminate the minds of good, kind, compliant Irish women.
Again the narrative is shaped around morality. The church’s phoney concern about Irish women:
Now we are told that opposition is a dangerous import being peddled by dark forces intent on corrupting an otherwise compliant and deferential populace. The battle is presented as a moral crusade and their intentions to force themselves into our spaces are hidden behind pleas for kindness, niceness and compassion.
Like their predecessors, the dogma must be imposed on our children. They need to censor dissent from parents and teachers, knowing as the Church did that if they get a foothold in the schools, they have the next generation under their influence.
So censorship is back. As Christy Moore sang in another context in ‘Section 31’
Who are they to decide what we should hear?
Who are they to decide what we should see?
What do they think we can’t comprehend here?
What do they fear that our reaction might be, might be?
We know what they fear our reaction might be. The deception is so obvious that even the feeblest debate exposes it. Therefore the debate must be stifled.
TENI’s public letter, with the (mind boggling) support of the NWCI say "We call on media, and politicians to no longer provide legitimate representation for those that share bigoted beliefs,"
"Let us say unequivocally that the statements of newly launched organisations that seek to defend biology or fight gender identity and expression do not represent the wider LGBTI+ community nor feminists in Ireland." [our bold]
The message is clear - censor them and silence their voices.
However, I don’t hear silence. I hear anger and outrage. I hear the quiet determination of a generation saying "We will not go back" . So we have to fight again, depressing as that is. We must spread the word. We must debate, argue and persuade through whatever means we have. As Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington said "women 'must organise, must educate themselves in citizenship, must become vocal, if need be, clamorous'".
I believe in the material reality that biological sex is immutable. I also think that everyone is entitled to their belief and that trans people have that same right. I don’t agree to stop fighting against misogyny; to stop fighting for my equality and the equality of women and girls everywhere. I’m not hate filled and I’ve no wish to dominate but history tells us that only allowing one side a voice and forcing any movement underground is rarely a solution.
I know there are many decent people who disagree with me; I have no problem with that.
As part of an underground network providing abortion information to women in the 80’s and 90’s we operated close to the Hirschfeld Centre in Temple Bar. We each had to be careful leaving our respective buildings at night such was the culture of the time. It was the gay community that provided us space when we had to relocate. It’s heart-breaking to think that many members of the LGBT would now see me as an enemy.